Friday, June 13, 2014

Duck's Off - Sorry

Back in May, we found that a mama duck had made a nest by our house. I was a bit skeptical about the whole arrangement. In the first place, she chose a location that was fairly exposed -- the mulched area at the front of our house. It seemed too exposed to me, but hey, none of the plants had come up. Perhaps she was counting on the plants to grow in a month or so (or however ducks express the passage of time to themselves -- moon cycles? morning dews? quacks?) in such a way that the nest will wind up being sheltered from prying eyes and predators. After all, the mulch made for an easy insulation, and she was able to save herself some of her down and concentrate on pushing out those eggs. If so, that's a smart, savvy duck. 

I did some checking, and what the internet told me was that mallard females will lay one egg every day or two, spending just an hour or so at the nest site, and then leave to forage, rest, find duckling rearing guidebooks, etc. This process continues until she has a full "clutch" of eggs (8-12). Then, she stays at the nest to keep her future babies warm, leaving a couple of times a day for an hour or so at a time to do the same things things she previously had all day to do during the laying season. You have to wonder if they get a little resentful of this reversal of the dynamics of their day.

For a week or two, we would see mama from time to time. We even saw dad. We started to feel familiar with them. We even gave them names. My girls named the mom Alpha Mama. I named the dad Papa Duck Duvalier, because I'm HYSTERICAL (and also because my research also revealed that male mallards are colossal pricks).

I told her there were too many kids
around here, but would she listen? Noooo.
Then we stopped seeing them around. As it turns out the site may not have been quite as ideal as mama thought it might be. Maybe dad was the one who picked it out. Perhaps it drove a wedge between them. As a matter of fact, the last time I had seen them, they seemed to be at odds.

And now, it's been three weeks or so. Not a sign. The nest has not been disturbed, and there have been no sightings. The internet told me that a mama will sometimes abandon a nest if something scares her off, and between children at play in the front yard, neighborhood cats roaming around at will and a gentle, friendly, but naturally curious dog next door, it's clear mama decided to cut her losses and find a better spot.

So, yesterday, I decided it was time to pull the eggs before they become ticking time sulpher bombs that upon detonation would chase away the kids, dogs, people and predators that so worried Alpha Mama in the first place. I put on some gloves and gently moved the mulch, sticks, grass and duck down. 

My first surprise was just how few eggs there were.
Time to leave the nest, kids!
Looks like she stopped at four. That's not even close to the minimum. 

Sad as I am that we didn't get to witness the entire process, I'm relieved that I didn't discover a dozen in there, which would certainly cause me to second-guess my decision. For weeks, I'd be haunted by the image of Alpha Mama arriving the next morning, overnight bag in bill and ready to start incubating, only to discover that the relatively hairless ape she had successfully evaded for so long had gone and dispatched her future fluffy balls of joy. I'd see her raising her head to the sky (if that's a thing ducks can do) and quacking the equivalent of "NOOOOOOO!" to signify the end of Act I.

But no. Turns out Alpha Mama had simply given up the site as a bad job and cut her losses. She probably found another spot and is incubating somewhere else as I write this. Or, her clock has run out for this year and she's just going to be some other brood's favorite aunt. Who knows? 

Perhaps another duck will give it a try next year. If they're smart, they'll look in the backyard next time. It's much quieter there.
If you think I cracked one open,
you are a fiend.